Ruffling feathers for Angel’s Nest

RCMP were summoned to the lobby of the government building to face down a security threat on Thursday afternoon.

RCMP were summoned to the lobby of the government building to face down a security threat on Thursday afternoon.

Ten young women and a 70-year-old grandmother armed with bright yellow placards and slogans and a desire to protect homeless youth marched on the Executive Council Office.

They were delivering a letter to Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart, a response to his reluctance towards the Youth of Today Society’s shelter proposal.

More information — a business plan and letters of support — is required before a shelter is approved, said a letter from Stuart Whitley, deputy minister of Social Services.

The information’s all there, says the society, which had already submitted a 52-page plan.

To back that assertion up, supporters took to the street and marched to the government offices.

Their reception was harsh.

After protestors asked to speak with Hart, a receptionist opened the electronic glass doors to the warren of cabinet offices.

She didn’t come back, but a security guard did.

He had been watching the protestors with a concerned look since they entered the building.

“You have to leave the building,” he said.

“There’s no signs or posters (allowed here).”

Someone in the cabinet office asked for the protestors removal, said the guard, who refused to give his name.

The protestors refused to leave, quietly and professionally.

No one was yelling or chanting, just making a polite request for a meeting.

The guard called the RCMP.

“We have protestors in the building,” he told the dispatcher.

The protestors didn’t balk, demanding to know what laws they were breaking.

“Are you worried this is a weapon?” said one woman, brandishing a placard.

“I know words are powerful…”

Frustration and government resistance led the protestors to the government offices.

Their idea is a youth shelter — Angel’s Nest, named after the murdered 19-year-old Angel Carlick — and time in running out, they say.

The society made a $50,000 down payment on the Hide and Jeckell hostel, which could be converted into a 22-bed shelter for youths ages 18 to 24.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation provided a forgivable loan to the society to cover the cost.

But the society needs financial commitments from the government before the loan is provided.

The society has until October 1 to secure the operations and maintenance funding — about $1.2 million.

Pauline Chambers, 20, led the march from the society’s home to the offices.

Time is running out, said Chambers, a centre volunteer.

“We need this shelter before winter sets in,” she said.

“There are youth in this community selling themselves for a warm bed. That shouldn’t happen, ever.”

A grandmother of two boys, 14 and 17, Lucy Jackson picked up a yellow placard at the legislature to “get Fentie to do something.”

Not supporting Angel’s Nest is shameful, she said.

“These kids need a place to be,” she said.

“The politicians’ children, or their children, will need this (shelter) one day.”

The 70-year-old Jackson left home at 16, raised two kids on her own without government support, she said.

“Lucky for me, none of my grandchildren have been in trouble like this,” she said.

“It’s ridiculous the government is giving these kids a hard time.”

After a tense 15 minutes of standing pat — an RCMP officer monitored the situation from afar — a response came from the Yukon Party.

A spokesperson came to meet the protestors. They asked whether he or Hart supports the shelter.

“I don’t speak for the minister,” said cabinet spokesperson Matthew Grant.

Hart is in Quebec at federal-provincial-territorial meeting, he added.

“All I can do is pass on a message to the minister,” said Grant.

He gathered all the signs, folded them under his arm and took a copy of the society’s letter.

“We’ve shown how we’ve met the requirements,” said society executive director Vicki Durrant.

“We’re hoping the government sees that as a means to back the shelter.”

A youth shelter pilot project at the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre has been extended until March 2009, the government announced Tuesday.

A public protest and attempting an impromptu meeting had to happen, said Durrant after the protestors dispersed on their on volition.

“Was this drastic?” she said.

“Maybe. The cause is at the last minute. Drastic measures are needed when kids are dying.”

The protest started at about 3:45 p.m. when 10 shelter supporters marched from the Youth of Today Society to the Main Government building, chanting slogans and holding placards.

The bright yellow posters — “Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders,” and “We want a nest so we can learn to fly” — provoked honks from passing vehicles.

Josie O’Brien, 23, has frequented the Blue Feather Youth Centre for six or seven years.

She’s familiar with the centre’s track record of success.

“I believe in Angel’s Nest,” said O’Brien during the march.

“I believe in people helping each other and Blue Feather is a cause I stand up for.”

O’Brien has had “ups and downs” in her life, but freely admits there are youth worse off then she had ever been.

“I’ve been lucky, but I know the feeling of helplessness,” said the community-support-worker student.

“A lot of youth don’t have the support I did, and 24-hour hands-on support would help.”

Government support is incomplete without a youth shelter, said Jackson.

“They treat people with addictions and spend all this money and turn and put them on the street with no place to go,” she said.

“Then the same thing happens all over again.”